Reflections of a First Year Teacher

My first year as a Montessori elementary school teacher has officially come to a close.

What a ride! They say time flies when you're having fun, and indeed, it did. Children who were complete strangers to me a year ago have become the people (aside from my family) whose well-being I contemplate most. 

I finished the school year feeling grateful to have a career that motivates & inspires me, pushes & challenges me, and allows me to make a small, but significant contribution to the world. 

There were good days, fun days, as well as stressful days when tears were shed. Some days made me question my chosen profession, while others confirmed it entirely.

As a class, we bonded, and we settled into a routine. We became a community–the students taking the lead on decision-making and learning to sort through disagreements on their own. I assisted and offered guidance when necessary, but ultimately took a back seat.

We made art, we wrote poetry, we cooked, we dissected, we played, we made music, we danced, we mentored, we presented, we challenged ourselves & each other.

This was a year that I will always remember and look back on fondly. It will always be my first.

Smooth seas never made a skillful sailor.

This was my mantra for most of the year, because challenges are inevitable. They make us stronger  & wiser when we face them head on. Only through persistence and commitment will you begin to see the fruits of your labor. But YOU WILL! 

So, what were some of the challenges I faced in my first year of teaching?

  • Busyness. Much of the year felt busy and hectic. I often felt as though I could barely keep up with all that was going on around the school and couldn't focus on my students and their individual needs as much as I wanted to. The students were busy. They were given a lot of responsibility to plan & prepare events & other activities throughout the year. Responsibility is key in a Montessori environment because it teaches children, in a natural way, to contribute to their community–to be an active participant. However, I also believe that it's in the times of quiet & calm that children are truly free to conjure up, express, and act on their unique ideas & interests.
  • Students' lack of confidence. This one came as a surprise to me. As a first year teacher, right out of my Montessori training, of course I was thrilled to get to know the students and their individual interests. I wanted to know what they were excited to learn about! I observed, listened, and conversed with them in hopes of learning what they loved that might possibly fuel their learning. For the most part, this worked. Children became inspired and engaged, because they were interested! But, as it turns out, there are a few children out there who truly lack a confidence in their work and in their learning abilities. As much as I tried to stoke the flame, they wouldn't admit an interest, they wouldn't latch on and let themselves become excited about an idea. In this case, all I could really do was to focus on building their confidence any time I saw the opportunity. And with persistence, I did see moments where these children were proud of an accomplishment, no matter how small. And I feel good about that.
  • Being in a 6-12 year old classroom, where the idea of an "upper elementary" and a "lower elementary" also existed. The mixed-age classrooms that are essential to a Montessori education are one of the aspects that I love most. I LOVE seeing older children helping younger children and practicing their leadership skills, while the younger children are inspired by the work they see the older ones doing. This is so evident in a 6-12 environment. You've probably seen for yourself just how much a 6 year old looks up to a 12 year old! It brings so much collaboration into the classroom. Many Montessori schools divide their elementary programs into "lower elementary" for the 6-9 year olds and "upper elementary" for the 9-12 year olds. Our school doesn't do that, yet somehow, the terms "lower el" and "upper el" were a part of my students' lexicon from the beginning. This caused a mental division among our students that, I feel, persisted in our classroom throughout the year. I even found myself using the terms on occasion, as much as I tried to refrain. And so, for unity's sake, I'm going to do my best in the coming year to let those terms fade into distant memory...

There will always be challenges. Challenges are good. The key is to not let them become overwhelming. It is so important to stay motivated and inspired. I've found that reading Dr. Montessori's books as well as the lovely blogs written by other educators, teachers, and Montessorians often renews my vigor. Sometimes for me, finding time to spend outdoors will do the trick. Sometimes, rest. 

Right now, I have big life changes underway. Summer break couldn't have come at a more opportune time, as I need to rest, organize, and plan for the future. So I am doing just that.

I'm also working on a new creative project that I'm excited about, and I look forward to sharing that with you further down the road. 

I would love to hear about how you overcame particular challenges throughout the school year. What did you learn in your first year teaching (no matter when that was)? What keeps you motivated and inspired? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments. Let's be motivation & encouragement for each other!